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Surgeons to keep patients between life and death to save life

They are calling it a ground-breaking emergency technique. And why not? For the first time ever, surgeons at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will operate on knife-wound or gunshot victims by putting them between life and death. As part of the new technique, patients would be placed in a state of “suspended animation,” later this month giving surgeons enough time to fix their injuries that would otherwise be lethal.

“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the hospital, said. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”
Doctors will perform the operation by first replacing the patient’s blood with a saline solution, which stops almost all cellular activity. At this stage where the patient will be clinically dead, doctors would get a window of about two hours to operate on injuries.

“If a patient comes to us two hours after dying you can’t bring them back to life. But if they’re dying and you suspend them, you have a chance to bring them back after their structural problems have been fixed,” surgeon Peter Rhee at the University of Arizona in Tucson added.

The saline solution will later be replaced with blood in patient’s body. If all goes well, the heart should restart slowly by itself or through a jumpstart.

The technique was first tested in pigs way back in 2002 by Hasan Alam at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, and his colleagues. Some of the pigs were able to survive the treatment without any deleterious effects.

“After we did those experiments, the definition of ‘dead’ changed,” Rhee said. “Every day at work I declare people dead. They have no signs of life, no heartbeat, no brain activity. I sign a piece of paper knowing in my heart that they are not actually dead. I could, right then and there, suspend them. But I have to put them in a body bag. It’s frustrating to know there’s a solution.”

But trying this technique in humans has long been debated.

A final meeting will be held at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital this week, to make sure that doctors are fully prepared to try the technique on patients.

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Source: New Scientist


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